By Justin Franz
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Surface Transportation Board is asking executives from four Class I railroads — BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific — to appear before it and address “urgent” service issues facing the nation’s freight rail network. On Thursday, the Board announced that in recent weeks it has received numerous complaints of “inconsistent and unreliable” freight service from shippers and other stakeholders.
Executives from Canadian Pacific, Canadian National and Kansas City Southern are also invited to partake in the hearing, scheduled for April 26 and 27.
In a press release announcing the hearing, Board Chair Martin Oberman blamed Precision Scheduled Railroading, an obsessive desire to lower operating ratios and drastic workforce cuts for the ongoing service issues.
“During my time on the Board, I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers,” Oberman said. “Part of that strategy has involved cutting their workforce to the bare bones in order to reduce costs. Over the last 6 years, the Class Is collectively has reduced its workforce by 29 percent – that is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls. In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees.”
Oberman said he expected the Class I executives, including those in operations and human resources, to offer solutions for the ongoing issues.